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Collective Bargaining



Statement on the NHL’s Cancellation of the 2004-05 Season and the Ongoing Lockout

League of Fans

Prior to the September 15, 2004 expiration of the National Hockey League Collective Bargaining Agreement, which resulted in the owners locking-out the players, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and franchise owners could not find the motivation to begin a dialog of compromise with the NHL Players’ Association to save hockey for millions of loyal consumers. Now that Commissioner Bettman has driven the final icy stake into the hearts of hockey fans by cancelling the NHL season, it is apparent that compromise was never an option.

Despite proposals from the NHLPA for significant and surprising concessions to appease the grievances of NHL owners, the league chose to stick with a hard-line position with unilaterally determined and imposed terms rather than to participate in collective bargaining.

NHLPA Executive Director & General Counsel Robert Goodenow offered two considerable concessions in favor of the owners: (1) a 24 percent rollback on all player salaries -- effectively redistributing hundreds of millions of dollars from players to owners in the first year and over $1 billion over three years, and going against the contracts owners offered and players signed; and (2) a salary cap -- conceding the major element that owners craved.

And yet, no deal and no hockey. The owners turned down the offer from players to give back nearly a quarter of their money and cap future earnings. As it turns out though, the goal of NHL owners is not simply to have their concerns successfully addressed by the union. Rather, the all-encompassing objective is union-busting.

From the beginning, instead of concentrating time and resources on negotiations with the NHLPA in an honest effort to reach agreement, the NHL spent much of its time trying to sway fans and media against players with its public relations strategy. Commissioner Bettman and the NHL owners used the opportunity to repeatedly push dubious claims that player salaries are to blame for high ticket prices and the league’s economic difficulties.

Team owners pay salaries as an investment based on what they believe players are worth. Given that ticket prices are a function of supply-and-demand, with owners typically putting prices at their highest revenue-generating potential regardless of how high or low player salaries are, the relationship between salaries and ticket prices has been overblown by the NHL in an effort to get fans on their side. High player salaries may contribute to the alienation of fans, but with all of the luxury box-filled publicly-funded arenas and robust revenue growth in the NHL, league and franchise mismanagement and lack of revenue sharing is certainly more to blame for financial troubles.

By refusing a labor deal in their own financial favor, Commissioner Bettman and the NHL owners have left themselves completely exposed, and their arguments unjustifiable. Instead of collectively bargaining with players, they have collectively driven the NHL into the ground and no longer have anything to hide behind or anyone to blame but themselves. The NHL has taken its fans and host cities of the league for granted and in so doing, have re-defined the status of professional hockey in North America for years to come.

Before returning to the game in great numbers and before handing over any more of their hard-earned dollars to NHL owners, it is essential that hockey fans demand respect. The NHL needs to realize that its operations must change. Owners should not be able to get away with catering only to the white-collar luxury market. If the NHL is to become profitable again, the league must please the average fans. The NHL will no longer be able to sustain itself by ignoring fans and hoping they will still pay exorbitant prices for parking, concessions and mediocre seats at games.

State and local governments should never again tax the public to pay for new arenas for the benefit of NHL owners, especially those who manipulate and threaten them into doing so. Further, those public entities should seek compensation from the NHL for all payments made toward subsidized arenas during the lockout.

Finally, Commissioner Bettman should resign before he further disgraces this once celebrated and heroic game.


League of Fans
P.O. Box 19367
Washington, DC 20036